In a surprising twist, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has got a shot in the arm from the very Supreme Court he tried to muzzle. Pakistan’s apex court has ruled that General Musharraf may contest the October 6 presidential elections in uniform, something that his future possible partner in politics, chief of the Pakistan People’s Party Benazir Bhutto, has said is unacceptable. The General has said that he will doff the uniform once he wins the elections even as violent protests have erupted in Islamabad. The opposition parties have threatened to quit. Ms Bhutto is likely to fall in line with the court’s ruling since she cannot afford to botch up this chance of getting back onto the political stage in Pakistan. She knows that an understanding with him is the best bet for her political rehabilitation and an end to the corruption charges against her husband and herself. The General has made it clear that any power-sharing arrangement will be with Ms Bhutto and not her rival and his former nemesis, Nawaz Sharif. The former prime minister is smarting from his unhappy homecoming which lasted less than a few hours before he was bundled off to his home in exile in Saudi Arabia.
For General Musharraf, the court ruling could not have been better news. His popularity has been slipping and there are reports that sections of the army too are unhappy over his role as Washington’s chief ally in the fight against terror. With the Bush presidency on its last legs, the General cannot count on the US’s unstinted support in a future set-up. So it is vital that he secures a position that will ensure his continuity and importance in Pakistan’s politics. In recent times, sections of the American establishment have questioned General Musharraf’s intent, indeed ability, to take on the fundamentalists in his country’s hostile northern provinces and Afghanistan.
Now that it seems fairly certain that he will stay on as president sans his uniform, the real test awaits him. Away from the pressures of the army, perhaps he will be able to prove his real mettle as a politician. A constructive partnership with Ms Bhutto could well be the salve that Pakistan, wounded by fundamentalism and violence, so badly needs.